Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…

After a period of genre movie starvation that seems to dog the final two months of each year that passes, the first week of January opens with a lush supply of direct to video goodness that quenches the thirst of a dehydrated desire for schlocky delight.

What better way to end this span of enforced detox than with the latest from the pen of John Fallon. Fallon of course is better known as the honcho of the Arrow in the Head website, but an ambitious movie career has always run concurrently. Acting roles have come in the shape of appearances in SAW II, 100 FEET and DEATH RACE, although it’s Fallon’s writing that triggers the most interest with DEADEN lying at the core. Released back in 2006 (though not in the UK until 2010) it was a grimy, gratuitously violent revenge flick that oozed an 80s vibe while managing to retain a contemporary edge.

His latest foray into revenge territory comes in the form of AMERICAN MUSCLE, retitled for the UK market as VENGEANCE ROAD. Nick Principe (Chromeskull in LAID TO REST) heads the cast as John Falcon who after being betrayed and left for dead by those closest to him – not to mention enduring a ten year spell behind bars, decides to mark his freedom with bloody retribution.

At a trim 70 minutes minus credits, VENGEANCE ROAD is a brisk uber-violent piece of glorious neo-Grindhouse. Principe is a menacingly imposing lead, tattooed to within an inch of his life and carrying off a handlebar moustache with the machismo it’s rarely associated with. Support comes very ably from Todd Farmer (JASON X), Trent Haaga (KILLJOY), Robin Sydney (THE GINGERDEAD MAN) and even Fallon himself as mute henchman Tongues. A throwaway exploitation sleaze-fest would seem to damn VENGEANCE ROAD as something to be sneered at, but that backhanded compliment I actually offer with the most genuine of respect.

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It’s fair to say that the writer / director of NURSE, Doug Aarniokoski, has had a career on the type of film sets that most of us genre aficionados can only dream of. Starting life as a 1st AD in the Full Moon universe he worked on such Bandian classics as DOCTOR MORDRID, DOLLMAN vs DEMONIC TOYS and PUPPET MASTER IV and V before joining Robert Rodrguez’s camp in a similar role on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN and THE FACULTY. NURSE isn’t his first feature film however, his debut was (whisper it) HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME, but thankfully of late he made amends by shooting the excellent THE DAY which made its UK debut just over a year ago.

Following that slice of neatly constructed post-apocalyptic tension, the stakes were raised for the aforementioned  NURSE – or NURSE 3-D as it was released originally. Here we find Abby Russell (Paz de la Huerta), who by day is the epitome of a heath care professional, but by night she stalks the streets – her prey being a string of unfaithful men who she lures into dangerous liasons.

This really is a trippy little picture, cartoonish at times and also overtly stylised – check out the opening credits. It also oozes with smouldering sexuality thanks primarily to Paz de la Huerta, although her relentless voiceover falls dangerously close to DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES territory. Herein lies my main issue with the feature; Is the wincingly clunky dialogue unintentional, or is Aarniokoski deliberately veering into pastiche territory? Either way the playfulness it exhibits early on turns more sinister in the final third, making an uneven yet truly enjoyable piece of trash.

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Sigh.. Victor Salva. A man who for the last number of years has seen the same scandalous thing brought up about him again and again – yeah, why was JEEPERS CREEPERS 2 so lame? Not being one to bear a grudge though I had some enthusiastic love for his last movie ROSEWOOD LANE – based mainly on the fact it starred that loveable DEAD END twosome of Ray Wise and Lin Shaye, so the news that Tobin Bell was to both star in and produce his latest was met with intrigue and promise.

Nick (Luke Kleintank) is summoned by his mother to the asylum where she has been institutionalized since his childhood. Here she reveals to him that the father he thought was long dead is actually alive. Upon hearing this, Nick corrals his best friend and girlfriend to track him down and in turn find the origin of the debilitating psychic gift that he’s been burdened with his whole life.

Admittedly a lone voice treading water deep in a sea of Salva haters, the first third of DARK HOUSE I thought was a really nicely made horror movie, oozing with tension, and left me questioning why this thing never saw the inside of a cinema. Then the rest of the movie happened. As you’d expect the look of the film is first class, with regular Salva cinematographer Don E. FauntLeRoy (JEEPERS CREEPERS) making the best of the lush Mississippi countryside, but an eye-rollingly yet forgivably preposterous plot soon descends into chaos and confusion. Salva-type lead Luke Kleintank seems a little out of his depth, and Tobin Bell chews scenery despite the most outrageous ginger weave / braid / dread combo. It’s no disaster, more of a missed opportunity, but mainly it’s another sidestep away from the likelihood of JEEPERS CREEPERS 3.

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